Best running headphones for 2021
Listening to some motivational tunes can make going for a run or heading to the gym a far more enjoyable experience. However, if you don’t have the right pair of headphones for the job, your music could end up being more of a hindrance than a help.
The wrong pair might not securely in your ears, so you may constantly have to readjust them on your run. In contrast, the best sports headphones stay in your ears, make music sound great and have handy features such as a splash-resistant or water-resistant design.
What to consider when buying headphones for running
Wireless or wired sports headphones?
One of the major decisions to make when getting a pair of headphones for exercise is whether to go for a wireless pair, which connect to your smartphone or MP3 player via Bluetooth, or a traditional wired pair.
Wireless headphones are increasingly popular and have the added advantage of saving you from untangling messy wires whenever you want to use them. However, you’ll have to remember to keep them charged to avoid being left in silence mid-run, and they won't work with old MP3 players that don't have Bluetooth.
With wireless headphones, you'll benefit from increased freedom of movement. It can be incredibly annoying to have a cable trailing around and catching on your clothes as you run, especially if it’s an intense workout. On some headphones, cables rubbing and brushing against you can also really ruin the sound of your music, as vibrations are carried through the cable to your ear – a wireless model won’t be susceptible to this.
Getting a good fit with sports headphones
Most sports models will be designed with features to keep them more secure in your ears compared with normal in-ear models. This is often in the form of a rubber ‘wing’ that sits in your ear to provide extra grip. Many models instead use loops that hook around your ears to keep the headphones from falling out.
The hook/loop-type models do tend to keep the headphones secure, but we’ve found that the rubber wing design tends to be more comfortable. In-ear headphones with a headband can provide even more stability and peace of mind, particularly if you're worried about them falling out during your run.
Good sound quality
You probably won't need top-of-the-range sound for your workout, but it should still be pretty good. Most importantly, you'll need the headphones to have a good acoustic seal so you can hear your music over your activities and block out some unwanted background noise, without having to turn it up too loud. And you certainly want to avoid the scratchy, flat sound of the worst pairs; engaging, driven sound will help you get the most out of your routine.
Sweat and waterproof sports headphones
Fully waterproof headphones (those that would survive being fully submerged in water) are quite rare, but they do exist. Ones that are resistant to splashes, sweat and water are more common, and these will generally claim to survive anything short of literally falling in a puddle.
Some headphones even have built-in memory so you can load them with your music, which could allow you to use them while swimming and also means you don't need to take your smartphone with you and can keep it safe at home.
We recommend looking out for these water-resistant or ‘splashproof’ models, which will give you some added peace of mind if you get caught in the rain while running. Many models are also advertised as being ‘sweatproof’, which means they’re designed to withstand corrosion from salty sweat, so they should go the distance even during vigorous exercise.
Fitness-tracking sports headphones
Manufacturers have also started selling headphones that have fitness-tracking features. This makes some sense as a concept: why have two devices with you when you’re out for a run when you could have just the one?
Exact features vary between models. There's the Bose SoundSport Pulse, which measures your heart rate and transmits it to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Some models go even further, with the giving you motivational tips during your workout.
Best headphones for running
We’ve rounded up our top headphones for sport and exercise in the table below so you can focus your efforts on that workout.
Pricing and recommendations correct as of January 2021.
Sports headphones to avoid
As well as the sterling examples we've picked out in the table above, we've seen some terrible headphones during our testing, some so bad that they'd ruin your workout. The worst offenders are so uncomfortable that you'll be in pain before you're even making any gains, and their sound quality so bad that your ears will be getting tired before your muscles.
We've exposed some of the worst models you should definitely avoid in the table below to save yourself from a costly error.